Serling on Science Fiction
Is science fiction a low form of literature, consumed only by a small, niche audience? Not according to Rod Serling.
In a 1970 interview with professor and author James Gunn (you can watch it below), he explains that science fiction is a more sophisticated form of literature than many critics tend to assume — and one with a much wider audience:
I think the networks have traditionally, and almost ritualistically, short-changed the science-fiction audience, both qualitatively & quantitatively. I don’t think … they’ve given the proper respect to science fiction as a legitimate area of literary attempt. So number one, I think … it’s a high-level literary form, and number two, I think it’s much more than a small cotre of loyal viewers who have read “Amazing Stories” and want to go on. I think it’s a sizeable group, particularly amongst the young.
We live in a society which is so technologically improved and which is so scientifically oriented now, that indeed this is simply a reflection of what is the time around us now. But if I had a group of stories to select, I think by virtue of its mass media form, I would try to chose those stories that, [although] science fiction in genre, would be tellable in … the most acceptable human terms that we now know.
I would probably shy away from the year 2500. I would much rather deal in 1998. The hardware that I use I think should be identifiable – different, of course, because it changes every year, but I would be more prone to think in terms of I would like to know what happens next Thursday, not in the next century.
That last point is key, I think, and helps account for the success of The Twilight Zone. The series was not pure science fiction by any means, but it used science-fiction elements quite effectively to tell what are really human stories at heart.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!